What is gouache you may be asking? Well you will feel familiar with gouache if you try it out. It instantly reminded me of painting in primary school. Remember that powder paint mixed in water back in the day? Ah…good times! Except that school paint was horrible. But proper artists gouache is brilliant for painting with. Let me tell you more about it in this article.
Gouache is …
An ancient painting medium made up of pigment and a binder. Usually gum arabic is used as the binder in good quality paints. Gouache is sometimes called body color or opaque watercolor. I prefer its proper name as it sounds cool .. like “gwwaashh”. Also it is water based and non-toxic. Artists have been using gouache for centuries and many famous names have dabbled with it. Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse for instance.
Although gouache remains in the shadow of oils, acrylics and watercolor this is changing. I notice more artists rediscovering gouache and its excellent properties. These include:
An Excellent Medium for Beginner Painters
Above all gouache is easy for beginners to work with. More so because you tend to paint smaller paintings. An A4 watercolor sketch book is ideal. I always say that beginners learn best when painting on a smaller scale. Gouache makes this simple to do. Plus the skills learned with gouache can be easily carried through to oils.
Is gouache like acrylics?
There are important differences between the two. Traditional gouache can be reactivated with water once dry. This makes gouache quite versatile for making changes. Plus its opaque nature makes these attempts more forgiving.
Acrylics, once dry, cannot be reworked. You can only paint over dry acrylics. Another benefit for us forgetful artists is that our brushes are not ruined when gouache dries on the bristles. Having said this you do get acrylic gouache too, but these are mostly favoured by specialist illustrators.
What Materials do You Need for Gouache Painting?
Firstly your paints are important. Cheap poster paint is fine for kids, but not for high quality painting. As always you are better off purchasing excellent paints. I am using Winsor and Newton Designer’s gouache. Do not let the “designer’s”description put you off. It is excellent paint suitable for any form of gouache painting.
The paints come in 14ml tubes and you can purchase them in sets or in singles. If you want to test them out I suggest the Primary Colors set.
The typical colors all have superb pigment strength and are lightfast. There are a few speciality colors that are considered fugitive and will fade over time. However these are meant for illustration and scanning purposes. For the rest you can use the colors for typical display paintings, framed and hanging on the wall.
Mixing and Storing Gouache Paints
When squeezing out the paints they resemble watercolor tube pigments. Highly concentrated and liable to dry out quickly. So use a container with compartments in which to squeeze out your paint. I have found a nifty ice cube tray with a lid for this purpose. It seals airtight and the tiny compartments keep the paints separate and safe.
Spritz a little water over the paints to keep them moist in storage. A few drops of hydrogen peroxide in the water spritzer ensures that the moist paints do not get moldy in humid conditions. If your paints dry out they will crack much like your children’s paints. However a little water will soften them up and make the paint workable. The best solution is to use what you need when it is fresh.
A few mixing trays are necessary to work your colors. I take a little paint on the brush from the storage container and put it on the mixing tray. I only add water at this point or mix the pigment with other colors. This keeps the color notes clean and intentional.
At the end of the day I clean off the mixing trays. The remaining paint in storage gets a spritz of water and the airtight lid is replaced. See the videos below for more on this.
Soft synthetic or natural hair brushes work best. Flats and rounds in suitable sizes for your style will be perfect. I like the KUM memory point brushes for larger shapes. Then a few rounds in sable or synthetic equivalent are excellent options. The paint is gentle on the brushes, but keep them thoroughly clean. Two water containers make thorough cleaning easier.
Painting Surfaces for Gouache
Gouache will stick to any of the usual painting surfaces, but typically it is applied to paper. I do believe you can use gouache on gesso primed panels and once sealed, you can frame them like oil paintings. But I am still testing that out so for now let us stick to paper as the primary surface for gouache paintings.
I like cold pressed 300g watercolor paper. Simply tape a sheet to a firm surface and paint away. You can tone the paper with watercolor or a wash of gouache first. Then go ahead with the thicker gouache layers. From this point on your creativity and imagination is your only boundary.
Typically completed paintings can be sprayed with a fixative like Krylon to protect the paint from water damage. Keep the paintings in a sketch book or frame them behind glass for display purposes. Find all your gouache painting materials at Art Savings Club.
Getting Started with Your FIrst Gouache Painting
The paints are easy to handle. Mix them with a little water on your mixing tray. I emphasize using a little water. The paints must not be runny like watercolor, but not sticky either. Just diluted enough to create an easy flowing paint that is still opaque.
I prefer to paint much like I do with oils or acrylics. That is to work from dark shapes to light shapes. Also apply many layers. Gouache seems to benefit from many layers of color so I tend to build things up to the final lightest value colors. As gouache tends to dry darker, for light, and lighter for darks you will be inclined to correct this with new layers. Once you get the desired value and vibrancy you can call it a day.
Fortunately gouache dries very quickly and applying layers is easily done. The paintings that I demonstrate in the videos took about thirty to forty minutes to complete. By letting wet color dry while I work on another part of the painting I was able to move around the painting surface building up layers without muddying up color.
Start with small sketches in gouache and focus on painting light filled paintings. It is the contrast between light and dark shapes and warm and cool color that brings the best out of this medium.
In future articles I will focus on painting specific subjects in gouache. Keep a look out for those and my Gouache For Beginners course coming out later this year. Be sure to join my Artists and Collectors Circle to stay in the loop with news and special offers..
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Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa